This article by Craig DiLouie, LC was originally published in tED Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
Lighting controls are systems and devices used to modify the output of light sources. The input may be manual or automatic and the output switching, dimming or color tuning. Manual controls are typically used to support visual needs, automatic controls for energy management.
By type of input, the four basic lighting control strategies are manual control (manual), occupancy sensing (occupancy), scheduling (time of day) and daylight harvesting (daylight contribution to light levels). These strategies are commonly deployed in commercial buildings due to mandatory requirements in energy codes adopted in most states. Additional control strategies include task tuning, demand response and color tuning.
Driven primarily by demand for energy savings, energy codes and utility rebates, lighting controls are making gains in the installed base, though the numbers suggest a significant retrofit opportunity. According to the Department of Energy’s 2012 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), in that year, occupancy sensors controlled lighting in 15 percent of buildings and 41 percent of all commercial floorspace. Time-based scheduling controls, 17 percent of buildings and 35 percent of floorspace. Multilevel and dimmable lighting, 6 percent of buildings and 17 percent of floorspace. And daylight harvesting, 2 percent of buildings and 7 percent of floorspace. The installed base of automatic lighting controls is therefore growing but largely concentrated among larger buildings.
Enter solid-state lighting. LED lighting is proving to be a game-changer in the lighting world, and controls are no exception. While LED is currently pegged at about 3 percent of the installed base of lighting in the United States, adoption is rapidly growing. This is resulting in displacement of traditional light sources. In the case of lighting controls, however, LED may promote adoption—of more advanced control solutions in new construction and controls generally in existing construction.
LEDs are highly controllable. They are dimmable, with dimmable drivers being available standard or as a standard option with most luminaires. Power is reduced essentially in a linear relationship with light level. Dimming may increase source life. Frequent switching does not appreciably reduce lamp life. And the digital nature of LED devices makes them inherently compatible with intelligent lighting controls.
“LEDs, paired with a driver or power supply, can be easily turned ON and OFF and dimmed,” says Audwin Cash, VP Acuity Control Solutions, Acuity Brands Lighting. “Paired with digital control systems, LEDs take advantage of daylight harvesting, occupancy control and personal lighting control more cost-effectively than any other light source.”
The challenge is choosing a high-quality product to minimize the possibility of flicker and other performance issues; ensuring compatibility between the lighting system and the controls; and navigating choice as the realm of lighting control steadily becomes more sophisticated.
Seven trends to watch
Manufacturers point to seven predominant and emerging trends are shaping opportunities and adoption of lighting controls.
Economical controllability. Ensuring dimming performance in fluorescent and high-intensity discharge (HID) luminaires typically required a dimmable ballast that imposed a cost premium. Today, dimmable LED luminaires are available at price points that are competitive with standard ON/OFF and bi-level luminaires.
Intelligent lighting. The majority of LED luminaires are dimmable. When evaluating a control solution, one must always ask what method or protocol the devices use to communicate. The most common method is 0-10V. As LED sources are digital devices, however, they are readily compatible with digital controls. This has created significant opportunities for intelligent LED lighting that offers an extensive array of features.
“Large-scale installations of LEDs, especially in commercial spaces, often demonstrate the weakness of existing analog control technologies such as phase control and 0-10V,” says Ethan Biery, Design and Development Leader, Lutron Electronics. “These technologies are not only prone to compatibility problems and interference, they don’t deliver the features and benefits that many building managers are expecting from modern lighting designs.”
He adds, “Today’s dynamic environments demand flexibility. While code compliance may necessitate only the most basic control schemes, progressive specifiers will provide their clients with digital control solutions that accommodate greater flexibility and configurability.”
Wireless technology. Wireless sensors and LED lighting, both luminaires and lamps, are now widely available. This extends applications, facilitates adoption of intelligent lighting, and can make retrofits involving more sophisticated control schemes easier to implement.
“Everything is going wireless, and so is lighting controls,” Cash says. “Today, it is more common to see even the most standard control system operated through phones and tablets.”
Color tuning. A growing number of LED products allow control of the shade of white light output, from full-range white light color temperature modulation to dim-to-warm control. This has opened new applications for LED lighting, but with extraordinary potential as interest grows in the relationship between lighting and health.
“While vivid RGB color-changing for ‘architainment’ may be applicable for some specific application—retail, for instance— this use of LEDs will probably be limited,” says Charles Knuffke, VP of Systems and Evangelist, WattStopper. “However, if convincing research can be provided that there are significant health and/or productivity enhances with tunable-white ‘human-centric lighting,’ we’ll be seeing significant demand for this type of lighting in many spaces—in hospital, education and commercial applications.”
Integration with luminaires. A growing number of LED luminaire manufacturers are now offering integrated controls. This can simplify control implementation across the process while providing a path to increasing adoption of lighting controls in existing buildings.
“Integrated control packages take the guesswork out of installing control systems,” Cash says. “Because they are installed at the factory, compatibility is guaranteed, and additional onsite installation time is no longer needed, resulting in lower cost.”
Commissioning. Basic elements of the commissioning process are now required by the latest generation of commercial building energy codes. This will help ensure that installed controls perform in accordance with owner requirements and the design intent. Manufacturers are focusing on making their control systems easier to set up, adjust and use.
“For the controls industry, we are seeing a rapid increase in demand for tools to make programming and networking of control systems easier,” Cash says. “As is often the case, once some controllability is added, customers want to take full advantage of their lighting system and need the tools to leverage all the benefits the technology can provide.”
Internet of Things. This emerging trend may create demand for sophisticated control systems that can connect and communicate with multiple device types within buildings.
“The next challenges are going to be about data—specifically, about getting, sharing and making visual information about occupancy and power consumption information,” Knuffke says. “Think about it—every building out there has lighting of some sort installed in it. If you wanted to build an infrastructure to communicate data about how the building is being used, the most logical path to start with is the lighting system.”
Advice for distributors
Manufacturers offer three major pieces of advice for electrical distributors seeking to maximize sales of lighting controls.
Make controls a priority. “Start by asking customers what products and control systems they are currently using, and learn everything you can about these systems,” Knuffke advises. “Make sure to stock the more commonly used components so if project needs change, no one has to wait for new components to be shipped out from the manufacturer.”
He says that with controls becoming more complex and changing so rapidly, progressive distributors are appointing product specialists with responsibility to work with manufacturers and their reps and then offer training to their customers. “There’s a huge opportunity to become more valuable to your customers—end-users and contractors—by becoming recognized for product skills and educational programs,” he says.
Learn about controls and products. “Distributors need to become well-versed in the mandated energy codes and use that knowledge to select easy-to-install-and-program solutions that allow contractors to meet code and get off a site quickly,” Cash says. Distributors may also benefit from staying on top of advancing technology so as to serve emerging markets and opportunities for more-advanced solutions.
He adds that distributors should evaluate maintaining “system stock,” components that support integrated control solutions. These include network components such as gateways, routers, wall stations, sensors and so on. “This may mean slower-turning inventory will be required to allow the volume or bulk inventory to move at all,” Cash adds.
“We’re also having to learn entire new ways of comparing products,” Knuffke notes. “In the past, incandescent lamps were rated according to their wattage, not lumen output. LEDs have completely changed the way we will be talking about lighting, and whenever there is confusion, there is an opportunity for education.”
Promote quality products from reputable manufacturers. “Distributors must realize that LED lighting is not as simple as selling a bunch of separate parts,” Biery says. “Good LED designs consist of the control, driver and fixture. Successful distributors must be able to offer their customers solutions, not just products.”
He adds that distributors should understand what controls work best with a given LED product, ensure compatibility between all products, and choose LED and control manufacturers and products they trust. For example, he says, driver selection is critical yet often underappreciated, as it’s the driver design that determines the best possible dimming performance, from flicker potential to what control protocol is needed. Poor-quality drivers will perform poorly during dimming. A low-quality control will certain impair dimming performance, but even the highest-quality control can’t change the inherent capability of the driver.
“LED loads and controls are more sophisticated than their fluorescent or incandescent predecessors, and there is widespread differentiation in quality and performance across different products,” Biery points out. “The wrong recommendation or product combination can lead to end-user disappointment, expensive callbacks or the loss of repeat business.”
“There’s so much to learn about LEDs, if you haven’t already started learning about them—or plan to immediately—you’re going to be left behind,” Knuffke says.